S1: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Outward. I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward. And I just want to state in that capacity that lip sync assassinations are the only kind of assassinations. This podcast condones.
S2: I’m Christina Cutter Achee, a staff writer at Slate. And this is the one time in my life that I’ve ever wished I were more masculine for the sole purpose of being able to identify as mask for mask in these heavily messed up times.
S3: I’m Vermont along. I am one of Slate’s Karen feeding columnists and I am very proud every pride month. But at the moment I am. I wish we had chosen the month that was slightly less humid, making it very difficult for me to stay focused on gay pride when I’m this human. I’m so sorry. That sounds like a real struggle. It’s my struggle, you guys. That’s my story.
S4: Well, in case you missed it, June is indeed Pride Month. But between the coronavirus pandemic and the protests against racist police brutality taking over the nation’s streets, Prai looks a little different this year. But that’s honestly great because pride started, as you may recall, as a protest against police harassment at Stonewall. We’ll be addressing that legacy as well as the current movement for Black Lives. On today’s show, with the help of Bob the drag queen who joined us for our live show back on June 3rd. Bob is an artist and activist whose amazing, amazing, amazing HBO series We’re Here just ended. If you watch one thing, this practice, and it should be that show. But first, we’ll be joined by our Slate colleague, Mark Dris of Stern to take stock of marriage equality five years out from the landmark Supreme Court decision that gave it to all of us. And then we’ll end with our usual updates to the gay agenda.
S1: But first, it is time for pride and provocations. Reman. Would you like to kick us off?
S3: Sure. I should note actually speaking above the drag queen and we are here, that incredible HBO series that the show was renewed. Yeah. All right. So I will begin by saying that I’m very proud about that particular news. I found that show really moving. And I mentioned this to both of you before. But watching it binge watching, it really did a number on my emotions. But beyond that, I’m feeling really provoked by a J.K. Rowling. And I know that she’s mostly, at this point, kind of a troll and sort of wants me to be provoked. But J.K. Rowling tweeted earlier this month, quote, If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth, end quote. So beyond this sort of rhetorical, some of my best friends are black. Nonsense. I just am really provoked by what she is saying about how we talk about gender. And I am further provoked by that bad faith actors who dismiss anybody complaining about what she’s saying and saying that that’s sort of the left silencing people. And it just the whole thing drives me nuts. J.K. Rowling has 60 million dollars. I kind of think she should just go to a really beautiful hotel and stop tweeting, live out her days just yet. We’ve been through enough as a culture. I think we just need we need some heroism and we need some real leadership and especially somebody who has the ear of children. Right. Current and former. It just seems like a real a very sad use of the platform that she has built for herself. It’s depressing to me.
S2: Actually, one of Slate’s audience engagement editors, Serena Donna Ari, wrote an essay at Rewire about her experience as a trans woman who loved J.K. Rowling’s books and has been obviously not only provoked but harassed by some of J.K. Rowling’s fans on Twitter for speaking out against this tweet. It’s a really great essay. It’s in Rewire. It’s called, I used to think J.K. Rowling for my survival, her transphobia has put me in danger. I also just want to say that J.K. Rowling basically proves herself wrong within that very tweet where she’s trying to say that people are racing the concept of, quote unquote, sex, but the very category of trans people and trans women proves that no one’s trying to say that trans people are not trans. You know, like this is a category that many trans people embrace and it doesn’t make their gender any less real.
S3: It’s just it’s just so clearly not a good faith argument. And it’s so clearly something that she’s saying about herself and not about others. Like it’s just a weird it’s defensive over nothing. And it’s just such a baffling way to approach. It’s not dissimilar to my mind to when people say all lives matter. It’s just this sort of reaffirmation that you. Or the center of a conversation when you’re not really a part of the conversation. And it just feels very silly to me and I wish I wish she could have approached that with slightly more empathy for the people who have read and loved her work. And, you know, I don’t know. Like I said, she’s got 60 million dollars. Can she just stop causing trouble for people?
S1: That’s a real shame to see that happen. Yeah.
S2: Christina, I want to share pride this month. So, first of all, I am proud of the way queer people are showing up in this moment of protest. I went to a couple demonstrations in D.C. last week and over the weekend and I was looking around like, damn family is everywhere, like it was disproportionately queer. True. The way I like it and, you know, that’s just the people who I could easily clock from yellower their masks as queer. I’m sure there were many who flew under my radar. That made me very proud. There are also a ton of queer people leading this moment. In addition to the queer black women who started Black Lives Matter and named it, I’m especially wowed by the work of Fresco’s Steese, who’s a queer creative director and digital strategist with the Movement for Black Lives. So she’s been designing a lot of the graphics and iconography that you probably aren’t seeing as part of the social media and in person calls to action for the Movement for Black Lives. She designed the masks. That’s a stop killing black people. The pictures that everyone’s making, their profile photos, the images people are sharing. She’s also been doing social media and email pushes for the movement for black lives. So if you’re at all engaged in this moment, in this movement, you have seen her work. And I think her work is especially important right now because I think especially during the pandemic and a moment when a lot of new would be allies are using social media to explore this movement. Her work really stands out. It’s like the basis for what a lot of people are seeing as their first entree into the movement. So I just imagine, you know, 10, 50, 100 years down the line if humanity still exists on planet Earth. I think Fresco’s work will be a really indelible visual marker of this moment.
S3: That’s incredible. I mean, you think we the three of us had a conversation with the activists are Shulman, about the life of Larry Kramer. And we talked a lot about the legacy of act up and the ways in which the tactics, the visual presentation or the sort of theatricality of their protest tactics make those movements succeed. And it’s really remarkable. And like you’re saying about this work entering the historical record in the same way that the AIDS quilt did or in the same way that Shepard Fairey is. Obama poster did like those things. Exactly. Exactly. The things are really galvanizing and are worth celebrating as you see them. So that’s such a good one.
S1: Yeah, yeah. It’s for Chris, you know. What about you, Brian? I’m definitely preverb. And what I’m provoked by is the fact that a lot of our fellow homosexuals are out here acting like there is not a pandemic happening anymore.
S4: And it’s not because they’re out of protest, which is itself risky, but for good reason. Right.
S1: And there’s lots of good, smart thinking about like how to do that. And people are doing a pretty good job of social distancing and wearing masks and whatnot at the protests. But I’m talking about people who are just hanging out because it’s summer on the street or going here in New York. We have Fire Island, which is a narin gay enclave going there just like nothing’s happening. This isn’t my my provocation was inspired by two things. There was an article in The New York Times a couple days ago on June 6th about whether the party was over on Fire Island, the summer or not. And, you know, of course, a lot of people in the piece are giving lip service to it, to safety. But really, it seemed to not be acting like there’s there’s really danger anymore. But there is word of secret house parties and all of this kind of thing. And then there was also a viral photo that went around over the weekend of just like a throng of gays in Hell’s Kitchen, again, just hanging out. Some had masks on, but a lot didn’t. And just way too close to each other, you know, indoors or outdoors, outdoors. But even so, like, quite, quite crowded and touching and hugging. I think the thing was less so much being outside of the masks, but like touching and hugging and that kind of thing.
S3: I mean, it looked like a picture of New Orleans or something. It was it was a crazy vote.
S4: That’s right. That’s right. And so, you know, everybody needs to make their own choices. And there’s ways, I believe, in risk mitigation and harm reduction and all of that.
S1: But I have just been very concerned by seeing that picture and then also this article that that the gays are letting some air guitar heads a little bit and not taking seriously, that there is still a very much a pandemic happening and that there is, you know, probably going to be a big spike soon. And I wouldn’t want that for any community, but especially especially ours. So let’s let’s. Keep that in check, everybody, please.
S3: Yeah. Hear, hear. Yeah. If this is a tough moment and you do wish the people I understand that we’ve all been sort of locked up in our homes, we’re all going a little stir crazy. The weather is beautiful and people want to get out. People want to have a drink. You will want to see their friends who want to get laid. All of that is clearly it’s all defensible. It’s all very comprehensible. But as you point out, the stakes are higher than that. And it’s a scary moment and it hasn’t ceased being a scary moment. And, you know, in the absence of leadership on the federal level, I think that we all have to sort of like strengthen our resolve to be responsible personally. And it is not easy, but I do think it is what we’re called to do because we’re part of a community.
S2: Yeah, I really hope that all those people are taking heed of New York State’s guidance for sex during these times. Were they advised getting creative with walls?
S3: They’re lucky like glory holes. Are your friends. The 1970s all over again. I love it.
S2: Never thought I’d that. An official document from a state agency. But I don’t hate it.
S1: It’s a very helpful recommendation, Christina. Thank you. I made it positive. I appreciate it.
S4: So with that, I think we ought to move on to our conversation with Mark Dris of Stern to take stock of marriage equality five years out from the landmark Supreme Court decision that gave it all of us.
S3: It’s been five years since the United States Supreme Court affirmed in Oprah, Goodfellow vs. Hodges, the fundamental right to marry. In the years since, despite what we were warned by opponents of marriage equality, no one has started marrying household pets or appliances. Children haven’t been confused or traumatized by the sudden outbreak of fairness and equality, and the social order has somewhat miraculously not completely collapsed. I mean, it kind of, do you think, Fairpoint? Marriage equality is undoubtedly a significant civil rights victory. But what’s happened to queer progressivism in the five years since? Is the decision safe? Where should we be directing our energy, our attention and our money? How does the movement keep moving forward? We’ve asked Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern to join us to discuss. Mark covers, courts and the law for Slate, and he’s the author of American Justice 20 nineteen The Roberts Court Arrives. Mark, thank you for being with us today.
S5: Thank you so much for having me on.
S3: Get ready to teach us. Now you’re the expert. So five years feels like not a significant anniversary. But I’m wondering if in terms of the ways that one who watches the law would measure the law, whether five years is sort of a long enough span to look at what’s changed in society and draw some conclusions.
S5: Yes. So, I mean, from a social and a cultural perspective, I think it’s pretty clear that marriage equality is entrenched and it feels as if it’s here to stay. We see same sex couples on TV and in movies all the time. Not nearly as often. Are they super stereotypical or offensive? They are more often than not whites. And I do think that white men are overrepresented in terms of just queer representation in media. But the basic idea that two people of the same sex can get married seems like it’s not so controversial in the United States these days. Obviously, I live in D.C.. I think if I went down to rural Alabama with my husband and we made out in the in the central square, there might be a few eyebrows raised. But for the most part, socially and culturally, it definitely feels to me like Oberg of Fowl was not Roe v. Wade. It was not a decision that set off massive protests that helped to form a movement designed to overturn the decision. It hasn’t become this starkly partisan issue with Republicans just building their platform around their opposition to it. Oh, Oberg, hell has been so much less controversial. Yes, there was Kim Davis. Yes, there were some judges who wouldn’t marry same sex couples. But for the most part, it feels like settled law. There are some exceptions that I want to talk about, but it’s certainly not at the top of my list in terms of things I worry about it. Two a.m. after Ryan Benadryl wears off.
S1: I mean, I know I wouldn’t love to hear actually about some of those exceptions because I feel like I feel like sense. You know, all four of us are married. Right.
S6: And so not to one another. Just to clarify. Yeah.
S1: I don’t know if I would be afraid of that now, but, you know, we’re all married. And I think I think speaking for myself, like once that happened and we sort of made that leap, that hurdle, like, I feel like I kind of forgot about it and maybe put my head in the sand a little bit. So if there are exceptions or threats legally or sort of otherwise to marriage, probably I’d love for you to talk about.
S5: Yeah. So one of the big ones for quite some time was the issue of birth certificates for same sex couples. So for many, many decades, really centuries. If a woman gives birth, her husband is listed as the father of the child on the birth certificate, no questions asked. It’s called the presumption of paternity or the presumption of parenthood. Right. And the presumption of parenthood applies even when a woman uses a sperm donor. So there’s no obligation for the husband to say, actually, I’m not the biological father. And even if he did, then he would still be listed on the birth certificate, except in a few states where the sperm donor could come in and try to make a fuss. But this is the general rule, right? A married opposite sex couple. They are the parents of the child that they have after Oberg afoul. There were a lot of same sex female couples who were having children using sperm donors. Right. And the way this would usually work is that one woman would carry the pregnancy to term. And then, you know, after the birth that both women would say, we are the mothers of this child, we should go on the birth certificate. And some states like Arkansas and Indiana said, no, you are not the parents. One of you is the parents. But the other parent is the sperm donor. So we’re going to refuse to put your spouse on the birth certificate, even know if your spouse were a man and he were totally biologically unrelated to this child. He would get to go on the birth certificate. So that is a problem. And in 2017, the Supreme Court actually ruled that it was unconstitutional in a decision called Pavol One. It was, oddly enough, a six to three decision with Chief Justice Roberts joining Justice Kennedy and the liberals. That’s that was the composition of the court at the time. And what the court basically said was same sex couples don’t just get a piece of paper that says you’re married. They get the full constellation of benefits that the state has assigned to marriage. And it’s very, very obvious that one of those benefits is the ability to have an accurate birth certificate because birth certificates don’t actually track biology. They track legal parentage. And those are two very different things. So, for instance, if you adopt a child, you can get a new birth certificate with you and your spouse’s name on it. It’s not about biology.
S2: It’s about who has legal parenthood rights over the child, which is also why it shouldn’t be controversial for trans people to get a new birth certificate with their correct gender.
S5: Precisely. It is so ridiculous for these states to claim that it’s against biology and against reality and against the truth for transgender people to get new birth certificates. That is such nonsense. People, people who are adopted under that reading of what birth certificates are for have had invalid or illegitimate birth certificates all along. But of course, that’s not what they are. We should probably change the name of them. If you guys have, like, a clever new word for these, like legal parentage. Doc, your identity, sir. Yeah. Because that’s what they are. There is no such thing in America as like a legal government, a signed document that strictly describes whose genomes you, Kara, eat or like whose DNA strands are running through your mitochondria. I don’t understand biology.
S3: So my my husband and I are both parents by adoption. And I feel like what is often missed in this conversation is that when you have these documents that do not align with the reality of your life, it creates very small problems. Very perplexing and almost insoluble problems. So on my children’s birth certificates, one was put in the seventh year. So I am listed I think I’m listed as second as parents, a parent and then second parent. But when you translate that terminology into the zillion forms you have to fill out over your life, you encounter all these forms that don’t understand how to digest this information. And you have to declare yourself a mother. So I have declared myself the mother of both of my children in multiple instances. Leaving open presumably the possibility of some I don’t know. It’s just like who knows what these machines are, how they’re digesting that information. And when this will come back to bite me in the ass. And I feel like this is just like an information design problem that haunts people for no reason. And I’ve heard this about people who have long, hyphenated surnames where it’s like your last name is more than 21 characters. And so a whole host of services are just not available to you easily for no reason. It’s so dumb and perplexing. Righto. Right.
S5: Absolutely. It is really stupid. And it gives you sort of at the mercy of the government officials who deal with all of this paperwork who might say, I’m rejecting your application because you claimed you’re the mother, but you’re a man. And so you relied on this form or whatever the case. I just described your birth certificates. I said that was from 2017. But oddly enough, just in 2020 in this. Very year we had an appeals court decide one of these cases because Indiana was still fighting in the year of our Lord 20-20 to keep two women’s names off their child’s birth certificate because they just said, like, this is an affront to biology. All the garbage that, you know, these these groups now use about how we just want to record the truth. And to its credit, the appeals court, which is very conservative, said we are bound by Supreme Court precedent here. We have to do the right thing. But there are other cases also usually involving children that aren’t so clear. So there is the example of bi national same sex couples who have children through surrogacy. Right. So basically, if a binational opposite sex couple has children through surrogacy and one parent is an American citizen and the other is a Canadian, you have the children in Canada, you go to the consulate, the American citizen says, hey, I’m the mom of these children. I’m an American citizen. The consulate says, yup, perfect’s, you’re you’re a citizen. So your kids get citizenship stamped the forms, given the passport. Same sex couples do this. They go to the consulate and they are told, will you have to prove that the American citizen is biologically related to the individual children? So they have to have American biology in their DNA. And if they don’t have that, even if you are the legal parent, even if you appear on the child’s birth certificate, you cannot transmit your citizenship to them. So it’s this kind of special barrier that only same sex couples face. It’s hard to fit this into the framework that we’re discussing earlier because, like, citizenship is one of the constellation of benefits. But it’s also a lot more than that. There’s all these federal rules and regulations and that the Congress has never rewritten federal law to accommodate for marriage equality, to accommodate for same sex couples. After the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on same sex marriage, Congress never went in and fixed all of that language. The Obama administration tried to do it through federal agencies, basically having bureaucrats rewrite a bunch of regulations. But the language is still gendered and still kind of homophobic. It talks about husbands and wives. And so these are the issues where I think homophobic conservative judge could try to work around Oberg AFL and say, look, I’m not denying marriage equality. Their marriage is valid. But the federal law says this is about a husband and a wife. This is about biological children, yada, yada, yada. And they could kind of use that to steal some some rights from same sex couples and their children.
S1: I mean, we know that one of the Trump administration’s like only successors has. And you’ve covered this. A lot has been getting judges appointed, putting judges and all of these vacancies. Is that something that does worry you, that if there’s sort of enough of these folks in place that that some of this could be eroded in the future?
S4: Or does it feel solid enough at the moment?
S5: It definitely worries me because Anthony Kennedy, who is the great gay rights hero of the conservative flank, is gone. Right. He’s been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh. John Roberts is the moderates of the court. But he’s also very, very conservative and dissented quite vigorously in Oberg AFL. And so as these cases crop up, I can very much see federal judges appointed by Donald Trump trying to wriggle around the actual holding A. Oberg AFL and start to erode some of these benefits. You can absolutely imagine these judges starting to chip away at the right to marry by taking away all the individual stars in this constellation of benefits, kind of plucking them out one by one. So I don’t think we would ever wake up and just suddenly find that marriage equality has been overturned. But I think this could be a long, painful process of slowly eroding it until the court is ready to just kill it altogether.
S2: But how much does public opinion play into this? Because, I mean, as you said, like all of the sort of indicators that precipitated this huge change in public opinion, you know, the pop culture, representations of queer couples, support from highly visible public figures like those are getting more prevalent support for gay marriages rising. I think the most recent polling numbers say more than two thirds of Americans support it, even more so in younger generations, including like half of young Republicans. So when judges are looking at possibly chipping away at these rights, are they also looking at the fact that, like, this is actually extremely highly supported in the American public? And will they be willing to contravene that the public will?
S5: Terrific question. The million dollar question. I think that I think that is true of some judges, and I think John Roberts might be one of them. I think John Roberts could look around and say, I have a limited amount of political capital. Right. That the Supreme Court doesn’t have a standing army to enforce its decision. It just has to kind of rely on the magic of the court. And I think Roberts knows that it would put a huge dent in the court’s legitimacy to overturn a decision just because the personnel had changed. Right. And to overturn the decision of such magnitude that affected so many people in such profound and intimate and ongoing ways. I can imagine John Roberts saying in light of all of that, there’s just not enough support or justification for me to overturn this decision. But some of these Trump judges are really just totally swaddled in Federalist Society nonsense. They are only friends with other ultra conservatives. They only ever read like National Review in the Federalist. They don’t understand that most of America is cool with marriage equality. So they have they have they may approach it from a different angle and they may say, well, all of my friends really hate gay people. So they’ll be super happy if I stick it to the gays in this decision. And so I could see it kind of going both ways. And I don’t think we can rely exclusively on public opinion to shore up a Supreme Court decision.
S3: Yeah, you mentioned Roe v. Wade.
S5: Is there an organized conservative movement designed to agitate around this issue in the way that there is around reproductive rights, not merely to the extent that there is for reproductive rights and most of the groups that formerly spent lots of money and time opposing marriage equality have turned their ire toward transgender people. And sadly, they’ve just devoted so many resources to that because they feel it’s a fight they can win. Yeah, they feel like they have trans people on on the defensive and that they are winning this battle in the courts and in public opinion. And also, I think those same groups, rather than aiming directly at marriage equality, are trying to legalize discrimination against same sex couples. So you got cases like that, the baker in Colorado who didn’t want to take the cake or the car designer in Arizona who didn’t want to make cards for same sex couples who actually won her case in the Arizona Supreme Court after the governor packed the court by adding seats for more Republicans. And so these groups are not focused solely on ripping up our marriage licenses, but they do want to make sure that those marriage licenses come at a cost to us and that when we want to go to a vendor for our wedding, our commitment ceremony, or we want to go out to dinner to celebrate anniversary, that there is a chance we will face discrimination and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
S1: Well, the good news is that the Supreme Court just made life a little bit harder for those forces in favor of LGBTQ discrimination, at least in terms of the workplace. Mark, can you tell us about the major Title seven decision that came down on June 15th and what it means?
S6: Yes, remarkable decision from the Supreme Court ruling six to three. That Title seven, as currently written, protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace. A really sweeping victory. Not a lot of qualifying language in there. Pretty much just a straight forward triumph for the legal theory that many scholars have been pushing for quite some time, that it’s just impossible to discriminate against someone for being gay or bisexual or transgender or whatever without taking their sex into account. I mean, to engage in any kind of discrimination, you first have to think about their sex. And when you’re doing that, you’re violating Title seven. So a remarkable and sweeping decision. I do think there are many battles ahead, but this one was certainly a triumph for the side of equality.
S1: When I was going to ask you, I mean, what are the sort of limits of this? Because this is specifically about workplace protections and not being able to get fired. Right. For being LGBT here. But this doesn’t cover some all the ground that something like the Equality Act would cover. Right. So like public accommodations and housing. Can you talk a little just a little about the limitations?
S6: Yeah. So it’s a little bit unclear right now, but the majority decision is pretty sweeping in talking about sex discrimination. It doesn’t say, oh, by the way, this is only about employment. It says we’re talking about sex discrimination and sex discrimination is something that pops up in more than a hundred different federal civil rights laws. Right. And the majority conspicuously does not say we’re only applying it to this one law. None of this goes for all the other hundred laws. Instead, the majority actually leaves it pretty clear, I think, that there is real possibility to start to reinterpret some of those other laws like housing, credit, education, and to say, look, just like this, this protects LGBTQ people employment. It also protects them in all of these other fields.
S1: Wow, that’s super exciting.
S6: It is exciting. But there is, I think, one one drawback, which is that the court does not grapple with this issue of religious liberty because it was not on the table here. And what the court says is basically we have no reason to talk about. Liberty here, so we’re not going to. And I think that’s fine. But it’s worth noting that the Equality Act would roll back some of the current federal religious liberty laws to ensure that no one used religious liberty to justify anti LGBTQ discrimination. The court’s decision obviously doesn’t include that. So there is, I think, a real possibility that the conservative justices who ruled for for equality on Monday could then turn around and say, but if the employer is religious, he can fire transgender people because that’s his that’s his free exercise rights. I see. So not a battle that I think that the forces of progress have won completely, but certainly an encouraging sign and much better than the alternative.
S1: Right. That’s a really good way to temper the news. So we’ve been talking about marriage equality in this segment. The five year anniversary was sort of the idea for it before this decision came down, and that was such a huge win. But I’ve been reading online as the news of this Title seven decision came out that this one is even more momentous, really, than not one, because it touches on more members of our community. What do you think about sort of that comparison between the like the Aaberg AFL decision and this one? And how excited should we be basically?
S6: Well, there are momentous and different ways. I think obviously the Oberg AFL decision did not directly implicate transgender people’s rights, although trans people can be in same sex marriages. It was really more about gay and bisexual people. That decision in Title seven explicitly includes transgender people, and it is by far the most momentous legal victory that transgender Americans have ever won in the Supreme Court. And so I think that’s worth celebrating. On the other hand, Deal Birkenfeld decision was rooted in the Constitution. It embraced this principle of equal dignity for for sexual minorities. This decision about Title seven, it’s all about a federal statute that Congress wrote and that Congress could rewrite if it wants to. So it’s much more of a kind of technical, complicated decision rather than bringing LGBTQ people into the constitutional fold, into what it means to be we, the people. Right. It just sort of says, oh, yeah, this law says something and and that’s what it means. Yes. It’s a pretty breezy and technical analysis as compared to the the beautiful, flowery rhetoric of Oberg. So, you know, I think no one’s going to be reading portions of this decision at their wedding. Right. Like they do for Oberg AFL. It’s not going to be the same cultural touchstone. But it does affect, I think, more pretty obviously more people because it’s the whole community. It’s not only gay and bisexual people.
S1: Yeah. I think as another journalist, Steven Thrasher, put it, like everybody has to work. Right. But not everybody wants to get married, so. Exactly. Of course. All right. I think that is a wonderful place to leave it. Everyone go read Mark’s excellent, excellent coverage of this decision. We’ll have links to that on the show page. Mark, thank you so much for your work and for joining us today. Of course. Thank you so much for having me on. I think we ought to move on to our conversation with Bob. The Jack Quinn, which again, was recorded as part of our live show back on June 3rd.
S7: We’re so pleased to be joined tonight by Bob the Drag Queen. Bob, one season eight of Roup Hall’s Drag Race. And recently released his second comedy special, Bob the Drag Queen at Caroline’s. Bob is a host of HBO, has new small town drag transformation docu series where here, which takes three drag queens to a series of pretty conservative places around the U.S. where they help local residents discover themselves in drag and put on a big queer show. So please welcome. And we are so pleased to welcome Bob the Drag Queen. Hi, everyone. Are you all. David, for joining us now. So before we get in to talking about the show, in light of the conversation that we were just having about what pride means this year, I’m curious, what does pride mean to you this year and and how are you feeling this pride month?
S8: Well, how I feel on this Friday month is an interesting question. I mean, I think that our nation is right now dealing with so many things compounded all on top of each other. You have. Well, the coronavirus. Quarantine the Black Lives Matter movement, the murders of innocent black people. And then also all that on top of the fact that a lot of Americans have not made money for almost three months and they’re trying to live off of twelve hundred dollars. Which deaths in the neighborhood of impossible? I mean, so what it mean? What dried means for me during this month? I mean, have been focusing a lot of my black pride this month, more so than, you know, the traditional gay pride that I’ve been celebrating every June for the past. You know, how many are the White House since I was 18 years old or when I came up?
S7: One thing that I think we’re here does really well is show the power of gathering and physical space together. You know, you put on these shows in places where people might feel like they’re in the minority. And I’ve been looking, you know, on Twitter and Facebook and seeing pictures of protests happening right now in small towns around the country. And I think I saw a similarity there in my mind about the power of showing up in a small town, especially a place that might be more conservative. What did that experience have going to so many of these towns? I’m putting on a big event. Tell you about the power of, you know, showing up in numbers in a place like that?
S8: Well, I mean, I’ve always known the power sharing up in numbers because, I mean, I’m alive former and I’m a theater actor. So I’ve been performing since high school. And I know and love that we get together in a group. There’s a certain energy that you collect in a room where you’re being fed by other people. And not only that, but like I think back to when I was back when I was, you know, protesting for marriage equality back in, I guess, 2000 10, I came here when it was moviegoing, marched down the streets. It wasn’t the same as walking down the street by yourself. I mean, you feel like you’re a part of something, which is. And I don’t think that. I don’t want to create this idea that we have to be that every single person has to be in the street to affect change because some people, for whatever reason, cannot either. With our mind, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. And there are some people who can not go to the streets in March. A myriad of reasons. And I want those people to know that they still have things they can do. So we think you can be very active in making sure that your voice is heard without having to go to the street. If that is unsafe.
S9: Bob, when you were so, you know, we were here, you end up in places like Gettysburg, Virginia and Branson, Missouri. And there is a particular moment when you were in Virginia and you are up Gettysburg in.
S8: Yeah, that was that was interesting. When he was our very first one, I was sorry I let you go and finish with him.
S9: Well, I was just I mean, I guess my question was just like, were you I worried for you watching. And I’m wondering whether you think it’s clear that the impulse behind the show is a spirit of activism and change. But I wonder, like those that comes with risk and I wondered if you and your colleagues were ever afraid or if you really just felt like ready to go into places where you may not always be welcome.
S8: I don’t know that I ever felt it just for the record, whether or not this is not to, like, call you up with Gettysburg’s in Pennsylvania.
S10: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Yeah. No. Call me. I was calling and dragged you into the truth.
S8: We didn’t I did not personally feel unsafe because, I mean, bear in mind, we are filming the TV show, so turn the camera around. Yeah. There were like 20 people sitting. Yeah, there were. There was actually this. Not sure. There was a moment where I didn’t feel unsafe. It was in Branson, Missouri, because we got the cops called us three times in Branson. And whenever they say, you know, we call the cops on you. And I would always leave like a meeting. Every one of my friends asked me, like, what did you do? And the cop showed up. And I was like, if you think for a second that my black as waited for the cops to show up to find out what they’re going to do, you’re absolutely insane. And now we’re fighting back. Now it is even more that residents even more so than it is.
S9: But, you know, even if you didn’t wait for that confrontation, there’s still a psychic cost to being a person, to being a human being who has to be accustomed to someone will call the police on you. And so I guess I just that is the level at which I was boring. I mean, yes, clearly you one would hope that your crew would be there to protect you, but it still can’t be good for you as a human being to hear that kind of thing.
S11: Well, now I wonder what’s different for you and Angela from Eureka. Right. From being people of color versus white, right?
S8: Yeah. I mean, I just can’t speak to what it’s like for Eureka. You know, I’d have to have the cops covering her, but I know that for me and I’m also like, huge. I’m six foot two, like two or three pounds. I’m a big black man. So, like, I just I’m I’m like I’m just not sticking around. I see how this plays out, you know? Yeah. Yeah.
S11: I was wondering so. All three of you are in the show like remarkably good at playing the role of almost that therapist. It’s sort of it’s sort of shocking, actually. One of my partners is is in therapy as his profession. And we were talking him just about how you all seem like you have degrees like in social work somehow. And so I wondered in preparing for the show, did you have any training or you all just that excellent at talking to?
S8: I mean, for the record, I do not have a degree and so I don’t have a degree or anything. I dropped out of college. But no, I mean, we didn’t really know. We didn’t get any training. You just trusted us in mind and what we’re doing there. I do not want to insinuate that what I’m doing is therapy or that I am qualified to do that. I’m just relating to people and ask them to tell me their story. Listen, there’s little I’m doing. No, tell me their story. And then I listen. And then I tell them how I can how I relate. Sometimes I’m not like fixing any one or, you know, solving anything. I’m just kind of listening.
S11: And that’s I think that I’m actually might be a great opportunity to see a clip. I think we have where you are. It’s I believe in the fifth episode of the show when you all were near the Navajo Nation and you’re having a converse. I believe we have is that you’re having a conversation with both your drag, a daughter and them to their friends about their experience of being queer and indigenous. So I’d love for us to play that and talk about.
S12: You know, you know who I am now. Even before it was something that was that, you know. And then according to the Bible. Yes. In our culture. That’s where your folks are very sacred. Humanity for God. And because of religion, they forgot that you find out that queer people in our stories since the beginning of time have been integral, very integral to ceremoniously in the household. You know, gender wasn’t a thing, but because of religion.
S13: We were kind of shunned out and pushed away. I did not know that. That is wild. Yeah, that is really, really well.
S11: Yeah, that is such a remarkable scene. And of you, I just like Peter, just like Telcel, that was like learning about that history and their culture and then also, you know, just being there.
S8: So, yeah. So that was a clip of me with Nate Derren and Sugarhill Denay and members of the Navajo Nation, specifically in Shiprock, New Mexico. Right. And it was really interesting to hear about how queer people had been pushed out of the narrative in regards to being indigenous and essentially how colonizing has affected the Navajo Nation and turned them against their own people. Now, at one point in time, the Denay people were very open to having. I’ve been told they have five genders, but then through colonization and indigenous people becoming Christian, they have been forgotten about.
S7: Yet another moment that stands out to me is your interaction with a young man who I guess I would call him X gay, where you know, he is the proper term. Yeah. OK. Yeah. You, sir, identify as gay then, you know, became Christian and sort of renounced that part of himself and decided to live a celibate life. And you related a personal anecdote. And I mean, you showed him a lot of empathy. I think more so than I would have been able to, because I think that narrative has been really damaging for a lot of people, you know. What was that like for you to to be confronted with that?
S8: Well, I mean, as I revealed in the show, the reason why I was able to show empathy because I had been there for myself, I had gone through that myself. And also, as I mentioned the show, my mom had also gone through that as well. So it was a really close personal story to me. And I I knew where he was coming from. But I also know that it is possible to make it through and come out on the other side and not hate yourself. For being who you are yet, I mean, I guess at that moment I wanted to have someone be as gentle as I need it. I want to be with me.
S7: Yeah, that’s really generous of you. Was there a part of you that felt like hesitant to to share that kind of narrative on this show?
S8: No, I mean, I think if you’re going to go into a town and has to go to bare their souls to you, the least you can do is give them a little bit back so that if I want to ask you to tell me all about your, you know, life and I’m not one would tell you mind saying I’m not Oprah. I’m not I’m not a journalist. You’re, like, trying to get your story. I’m just here relating to you.
S9: I mean, you said you said earlier that you felt like the principal mission was to be there to listen, not necessarily as a therapist, but just to hear people. And I wonder if that challenged or fit in with your larger ideas about what it is to be a drag performer. Because I think. Performance and spectacle is sort of the public perception or sort of like the audience understanding of what the drag performer is doing there, doing something larger than life and really artificial and sort of constructed and made and beautiful to look at. But what you are actually what you and your colleagues are actually doing on the show and these human moments is very stripped away. And it’s very it’s very human. So there seems to be a juxtaposition. There seem to be a contradiction there. But I wonder if you disagree with that.
S8: Well, there is an idea that people would seem shocked at the idea that, like, when you do drag, you’re putting on all this stuff, that X reveals who you are. But it’s actually not a stranger than everyday life. I mean, everyone’s putting on a bunch of stuff. You’re putting on a suit. You put it on hair, you’re putting on makeup. I mean, a drag queen is putting on makeup, but no more than Cher or Lady Gaga. There’s this idea that you have to be bare. Or is this the best thing is even about being bare. You have to just look as close to normal in order to not be covering things up or doing something like putting on clothes does not make you inauthentic using putting on extravagant clothes. They make you even any less authentic. They’re putting on, you know, capris and a polo shirt. No, no shave. Anyone any reason to pull off. But there is this idea that somehow putting on drag will go as you are. Which is odd because we’re putting on extra stuff. We’re all putting on stuff today. You don’t want to be stand there, but make it with no makeup on with your hair grown out to be authentic.
S7: Honestly, I think this speaks to a lot of the misogyny and some phobia that a lot of homophobia and transphobia is rooted in where, you know, people who adorn themselves with clothes and makeup are seen as more and authentic and more frivolous. Yeah, exactly. You know, another theme of the show, obviously, is the small town queer community. This is something we’ve also talked about on the show. This, you know, narrative that sort of encourages queer people oftentimes to move to big cities, to find community and to find themselves in the city. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. You found it, you know, queer sometimes queer community, but certainly queer people in these small towns. Did it change the way you thought about those parts of the country at all?
S8: Yeah, especially consider that I’m from a small town. So I was born in Columbus, Georgia, and I was raised in Columbus, Georgia, Fitting City, Alabama, Koritha Recipe Legrange or doing individual Atlanta, Georgia. So I was raised over a bunch of small towns throughout my life and I did not have a like a. And I. I have been through three or four of the small towns and I had never I also lived over like Alabama and I’ve never experienced any queer culture at all. So in my mind, there was that in these towns I had no one I could go to, no one that was like me. So I felt like I had to leave or to find something that was common. And maybe if I had seen some of these things where I’m from, I wouldn’t have felt the need to leave. I mean, I’m happy that I ended up in New York City. I mean, I don’t my life would be different than it is now. But it would it would definitely have me feel a lot less lonely when I was there.
S11: Yeah, well, I think that’s one of the great sort of double or triple meanings of the title of the show. I mean, you’ve got where here is as the line from the famous chant, of course. And then it’s like we’re here, you and Chandler and Eureka rolling into town. And we’re like here with our act giant Karsan camp. But then it’s like, no, we we do the queer people are also already here, which is like we fully existed already. Yeah. I mean, I’m from a small town in South Carolina and I share I really resonated with what you just said. Like, it’s it’s I, I didn’t know that we were there right when I was a child or a teenager. And that would have been I would’ve made a huge difference for me, but when I came out and all the rest of it. So I think that relative I mean, truly a truly. Yeah. You know, and so I think one of the most beautiful things about the show is that it teaches that lesson and hopefully it reaches, you know, as many people as possible in those small towns. I think we have some questions. Did you guys have other other questions before you?
S3: No. Let’s go to our audience question yet.
S11: Do you want to read it?
S9: Sure. We have a question from a woman, a person in Lisa Montgomery. She’s. They say, I enjoy we’re here. But there’s something uncomfortable about watching people try to help convert homophobic people by being really nice, offering hugs to people who, if the cameras were rolling, might hurt them. Was there anyone you met in filming the show who you just couldn’t deal with? Who made you want to walk away?
S8: I would like to address this by saying the point of we’re here is. Not to convert homophobes, like if anyone out there thinks that we’re here as a show, we go into small towns and we find homophobes and then turn them into rainbow flag waving flag members. That is absolutely not what we’re hearing is rare here. We are mostly helping queer people, people of color. This is not one of those shows where gays come and fixed rate people’s lives. That is just one of those. That is not. I mean, I have a show called Drag. My Dad, where I put it, was Dads and drag on MTV and digital. So no shades with those shows because young Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a big part of queer culture and has done a lot for the for the movement in general. But this is not what this show is. So I don’t want you to think that it’s all like trackways, hug straight people and then tell them it’s OK to hate us. That’s just not what this show is. It is uplifting the queer voices that are already in these communities, amplifying them and letting people know they’re not alone. Where were you? There weren’t. I mean, what you’re doing. I felt I couldn’t deal with. I mean, honestly, not a lot of people have the audacity to come and be overtly homophobic or risk to my face. Right. There was that there was a guy at Gettysburg who said something about us behind our backs. And people would be a little bit what you’re looking for, like they would like we’ll say, hey, you would come to our show and say things along the lines of I’m doing something that day. Why did you say what day it was yet?
S7: So in those scenes, when you go into these diners, it feels a little bit like you’re expecting that are thriving on that, like it feels like you’re approaching people who, you know, will give you a little pushback. Is that is that true or is that just how it looks to you?
S8: You know, I’m very much and we’re just approaching anyone who is in the place. We’re just trying to get people to come to our show. We’re not just looking for people who look bigoted.
S10: Look, someone who just looks like, you know, I don’t know, like the Kurds here. Yeah. Feel free. Yeah. I’m like, who’s a real piece of shit that, you know, walk up to?
S8: We are essentially going up to anyone out there. And of course, the most interesting response to the ones that were endemic on camera and as you see in the show, people come out like this. I don’t want to paint. I did. These tales are full of big homophobes. Because a lot of people are supportive and come to the shows to to show support as well.
S9: And a lot of a lot of the people you’re working with, a lot of the people who are there under your tutelage to perform themselves, you have like not tutelage that’s going to work for us.
S10: But very often that would save doesn’t. I does. To make up for Fucking Up or Gettysburg.
S9: You’re working with people who may not like you know, there’s a young man in Montana. I think it was who had felt some residual guilt for being like a jerk when he was in high school and and had come to know and care for gay people and realize that you’re thinking you’re thinking that Twin Falls, Idaho, with the Idaho geography is a disaster. But, you know, you’re or you’re working with like a mother who regretted how she handled her, her child coming out like you’re dealing with people who are not necessarily like I don’t think I did. I understand your point that she made about the audience question. Like, you’re not talking you’re not trying to convert people who are who want nothing to do with your existence, but you are dealing with people who are not the likeliest of allies.
S14: No, I agree. But also what you would do in real life, what you would do in real life. We were standing there with a mother who has shown her daughter, lost her daughter and has renounced her ways and said it was wrong. And I hate that I did it. And in that moment, Eureka was dealing with Eureka, didn’t say Eureka, never said, OK, you know, Eureka said I was a to. When my mom this would happen and it made me want to kill myself. Yeah, I wanted to kill myself because. Because my mom did what you did to your daughter. Yeah. You didn’t smack the head or call her names. But she said, I’ve been in the same situation. It was really, really harmful to me. And in the one and then, you know, they did end up the woman did inquire into Songer, but it wasn’t Eureka. Talking to a woman who is still standing firm in her ways, decided that she hates gave there because saying it’s OK. That’s just not the narrative of the show.
S11: Yeah. Yeah. One of my one of my favorite things about the show is and the you know, each episode ends with this really amazing drag show, watching the eyes of people, especially family members in the audience who may have been uncertain about this or even maybe a little bit scared of it, or if not outright hostile out, outright hostile to it, change like there was like an expression on their face that changed when they saw their their friend or family member do this performance. I mean, did did that to me convey is that drag has a power and a magic that is like more than we give it credit for. Did did going through this experience with these people enhance your your feeling about what drag can do at all?
S8: Yeah, I mean, I assume that you’re referring to either Brendan Michela in Twin Falls who’s who is a trans man, and his wife were whose family did not support or you all. There’s also in Rustin, Louisiana. His mom was like there she was like, you know. Yeah. Because, I mean, I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the power of drag and what it means and how it heals and how it helps. So I was not blown away. I mean, I was I was like, let me see. I told you it wasn’t my wild rag can do this because drag’s done that for me. Like what drag is done for me is profound. So I’m not shocked they drag moves, you know.
S7: Were you inspired as a performer by any of these now queens and kings and mentor.
S8: Well, what I did love seeing is like you forget how exciting it is someone doing drag for the first time. You forget because I’ve done it so many times now for the past eleven years. But then you see, wow, it really is like there’s the magic in drag’s. I was invigorated to have like maybe, you know, kick a little higher that matter, dance a little harder, just see people so excited to revel in, you know, the magic that is.
S11: And so tomorrow night on HBO is the finale of the series is could you give us a little hint about what it’s going to look like?
S8: So we were in. We were in. When I came here within the town, I think it was.
S11: I think it was Spartanburg, South Carolina Bernburg, which is about in about an hour from my house. So, yeah, from my home.
S10: Yeah, I’m really in Spartanburg, Virginia, and I’m getting Spartanburg.
S8: And that’s when the lockdown happened. So we were not able to finish filming. And this episode is filmed from our homes. How so? So, you know, this is an opportunity for us because we have asked you to be so personal with us. Is an opportunity for us to get personal with our viewers who have been sticking with us as well.
S11: Oh, it’s so exciting. I can’t wait to see that.
S15: Thank you. Yeah.
S11: Well, I think that that looks eerily audience, which questions back in the moment. Should we? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
S9: So, Bob, we usually on our shows by talking about the gay agenda, which is anything that we’re looking forward to in the coming weeks. And we thought since we have you here, we would ask you if there’s anything on your gay agenda for the rest of pride month.
S8: I mean, the gay agenda has certainly shifted. And I am proud to see so many queer people out there marching in the Black Lives Matter moved. And I do want to take a moment to say that Black Lives Matter means all black lives. That includes black, trans lives, black, non-binding, realized black, queer lives. And I just that needs to be said out loud from my voice that black lives matter means black lives, not just as straight black lives. And, you know, the gay agenda used to be like brunch, brunch, brunch, you know, but now you write it for me. I have set a lot of time to reflect on what it means to be a queer black person in these United States of America in 2020. I mean, this year is just what I am. I’m just gonna probably convulse when I hear this your personal life. I mean, quite frankly, you know, to me, it’s just that is a real. The kids on line always say this was a cultural recent I’ve ever seen, that people say that a line is like a nuke. It’s like a new thing.
S10: They must. I’m all for that. Kids today. Yeah. I’ll post the pictures up. They’ll say this was a cultural reset and it’s usually something fierce.
S8: But I’m right now, I will say it feel like 2020 is going to end up being an actual cultural set because we cannot continue in the way we’re doing it now.
S7: Thank you so much. It was a real joy to get to chat to you about the show, and I’m so excited to watch the finale.
S10: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks, Bob. Well.
S7: Well, just us three now. Rahman, why don’t you share your gay agenda with us?
S9: So my gay agenda is. I feel like I’m always doing these nerdy. I’m such a nerd. I’m always in bugs. And I was like, I really just I’m a nerd. But, you know, I botched I well, I binge watched all we are here. So I got through my pop cultural or cultural dose for the month. But this month, actually, to coincide with pride, Penguin Classics is reissuing a book from nineteen forty nine called Olivia. It’s a novel by a writer named Dorothy Street. She it’s the only book she ever wrote. And it’s a story of a schoolgirl infatuation with her headmistress and set in 19th century Parisian girls school. And the novel is under Oarsman did wrote the forward for this new Penguin edition, and he cited it as among the inspirations for his book, called Me By Your Name. And so it’s look a little steamy for people who are quarantining alone. But it’s also kind of a good opportunity, I think, to brush up on the gay classics. So I’m going to read that book this month. Christina, what do you mean?
S7: Well, you’ve inspired me to first share a steamy thing. And although I just recently started watching the show, VITTA took me so long. Oh, my God. This is one of the it shows similar to that our generation. Q But it does a lot of things better than that show. The writing is not one of them. I’m still waiting to really be sucked into the writing, but the stories the show tells are is it the stories the show tell? They’re very compelling and the sex scenes are far better than almost any queer sex scenes I’ve seen in contemporary pop culture. And I highly recommend the show, if only for those now for my serious thing. So I forget if I talked about this book last year, but I read it last year or more like flipped through it. It’s a really thick book, but it’s called The Stonewall Riots, a documentary History My Markstein. It’s a collection of a lot of primary sources and sort of contemporaneous accounts of the Stonewall riots, letters from the Time Flyers. I believe there’s some oral history, too, and it’s one of these rare tellings of history that puts you firmly in the moment without any sort of outside analysis from the future. So it really gives it a good sense of the complication and the messiness of that moment. I think with history, especially with Stonewall, which I think has been flattened and simplified, and a lot of it’s in our remembering of it, you know, history can seem like a foregone conclusion. And the change that riots like this brought about can seem inevitable because it’s already happened. But it wasn’t back then and it’s not now. And the way these things remembered are always subjective. You know, the people who were there were fighting with each other. They were figuring it out as they went along. There was chaotic energy and people were not on the same page about the right thing to do. And so I find that especially now when I don’t have anywhere to go for Pride Month except in my room. I really want to re immerse myself in that book and try to ground myself in the shoes of those gay ancestors and rediscover these queer stories from our past.
S11: Mm hmm. So beautiful. I love that. So I have had a love for a long time, a habit of watching certain movies for pride, just as like a ritual. My favorite one probably being the very best, but one that I’ve started more recently. And we’ll definitely be watching this year. I’d recommend highly that everyone is BBM, which sensor beats per minute. It’s a French movie from twenty seventeen I believe, and it tells the story of members of French. The French version of Act Up the activist group. And there’s sort of a love story within it, but also it’s about their activism. And it is just one of the most elegant syntheses of protest and that sort of energy right around in that case, around the AIDS crisis. And also, queried Joy. The scenes of dance within it are a dance. Dance clubs, which we can’t go to this year, but maybe eventually are just some of them as beautifully shot things I’ve ever seen. It just makes me cry to see to see more people dancing like this in the music is from the Bronsky small town boys. So it’s it’s like it’s just incredible. And the movie blends those kind of two threads really seamlessly. And so you understand how queer joy and celebration are deeply connected to protest and anger. At the same time. So I just haven’t seen it. Or if you have seen it already. I watch it again. That will be what this pride.
S7: I mean, it’s like that movie.
S9: It’s funny to hear you both talk about sort of looking back at this early fight for gay liberation and the AIDS epidemic, because I feel like it’s an it’s an impulse that we are all feeling right now where we don’t know how this story is going to end. We don’t know how the struggle for black lives matter in black liberation against police violence in this country in this moment are going to end. And so it’s so reassuring to look back at history and say, like, oh, these stories, they didn’t end, but they did resolve and things actually did change. And I find that so comforting because change it feels inevitable. But it also feels really elusive. And I wish I knew where it was. And I wish I knew. I wish I could mark my calendar that day that it was going to arrive.
S7: Yeah, you know, it’s a good reminder to stay focused, too, that, you know, these people didn’t give up even though they wouldn’t see the resolution of what they were for. You know?
S16: That’s about it for this month. Please send us feedback and topic ideas at outward podcast flight dot com or via Facebook and Twitter at Slate Outward. Thank you to Melissa Kaplan, who provided production work for this episode. Our producer is the wonderful Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts and the Grand Marshal of the Pride Parade.
S3: And all of our hearts, if you like, outward, please subscribe to our podcast. Tell your friends about it. Right. And review the show so others can find it out or we’ll be back in your feeds in July. Remember you guys. Pride is a protest. Christina Bryan, so good to see you guys. Always. You too. Happy Friday. Happy pride. Happy pride. Stay gay. I hope we will.